Ralph Capper, founder of North West furniture consultancy Ralph Capper Interiors, passed away on Tuesday at the age of 82.
Here, his son Ben Capper remembers the early years of his father’s career establishing the business in Manchester and forming part of the city’s renaissance in the 1980s, and the later expansion of the company and subsequent sale to Southerns in 2015.
Ralph Capper: 10 March 1936 – 15 May 2018
After joining the army and later working as an architectural draftsman, in 1966 Ralph was appointed as Northern Sales Manager for Hille International. At this time Hille were producing iconic furniture designs by famed British designer Robin Day, based in the same building as Beatles’ Manager Brian Epstein, in Mayfair London.
After establishing himself in this role, Ralph formed Ralph Capper Interiors in Tenterden St Bury in 1975; a unique independent furniture consultancy. He won a number of large interiors contracts such as Tootles HQ and the Four Seasons Hotel and grew the business enough to move to new larger showrooms in the city centre in 1983. He took over the old Hille showroom on Sackville Street, now Tribeca, assisted by his wife Susan and a small but dedicated team.
This was amidst an urban backdrop that was industrial, gritty and hostile. The showroom filled a void in the city, providing a design oasis of rich vibrant colours and fabrics, alongside exciting international furniture and lighting brands. There was nothing like it outside of London at this time and it was quite simply groundbreaking.
Ralph organised design talks for the architectural community by Carlo Forcolini, Perry King and Santiago Miranda. There were presentations about Le Corbusier, Arne Jacobsen and Poul Kjaerholm and the showroom was packed to the rafters as Manchester’s design community responded with enthusiasm.
Amongst the attendees were architects and designers whose names were fast becoming renowned in Mancunian circles. People like Roger Stephenson, Ian Simpson, Rachel Haugh, George Mills, Phil O’Dwyer, Dave McCall, Jeff Bell and Stephen Hodder, to name a few. These talented architects were in the early stages of careers that would see them rebuild, redesign and redefine the city skyline to widespread acclaim.
In 1998 Ralph seized the opportunity to move the business again to a converted industrial building in Knott Mill, Castlefield. The late Tony Wilson lived upstairs and the now infamous Boardwalk club was opposite, with the Hacienda just around the corner. Ralph had recently furnished numerous Heathcotes Restaurants, Halifax HQ and the original Atlas bar which was brimming full of Manchester’s creatives.
In 1997 Ralph’s son Ben and son-in-law Peter joined the family business. In 2001 the company won the supply of all furniture to Manchester United’s VIP, director’s suites, treble suites, boxes and press areas. A few years later, Ralph moved into a part-time consultant role before retiring in 2006, but still offering strategic advice and guidance. RCI won the contract to supply all furniture for Manchester United FC’s stadium expansion in the same year.
In the years that followed the business continued to grow and increased turnover to over £2.5m, furnishing offices, hotels, restaurants and educational facilities. The company went on to furnish various premiership football clubs, with Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester City joining United, with other projects including university campuses, airport lounges, and offices for Peninsula Business Services, Rothschild and BDP.
In 2015 Ralph, Ben and the family completed a phased sale of the business to Southerns Office Interiors.
In his later years, Ralph suffered from deafness – something that he was passionate to increase awareness of and a significant factor in his decision to retire. He became voluntary treasurer of Bury Hard of Hearing Support Group, securing funding for the charity through the local council.
Aside from Ralph’s numerous business accomplishments, integrity and passion, above all else, Ralph was a family man. Husband to Susan, brother to Alan, father to Justine and Ben, grandfather to Billy, Sam and Joe. He passed away at his home, following an 18-month battle with cancer, with his family by his bedside on 15 May 2018.